Sunday, January 03, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Dial Red O (1955) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Last year I began exploring Bill Elliott Westerns, thanks to a pair of Warner Archive sets, first a double feature and then the eight-film Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection, which I'm still working my way through.

While watching THE FORTY-NINERS (1954) in the latter set, I was struck by its DRAGNET-style presentation within the Western genre, with Elliott's deep voice providing voiceover narration. That film thus interested me in checking out the detective movies Elliott made at the end of his film career. They're available from the Warner Archive, in the five-film, two-DVD Bill Elliott Detective Mysteries Collection.

I just watched the first film in the set, DIAL RED O (1955), and I really enjoyed it. It may not be an especially great film, but it's on the level of a strong episode of a TV show like the aforementioned DRAGNET, with Elliott playing an L.A. Sheriff's detective.

Elliott's Andy Flynn (called Andy Doyle in the ensuing films) investigates the murder of a woman (Helene Stanley) whose husband Wyatt (Keith Larsen, SON OF BELLE STARR) has just broken out of a VA mental facility. He'd also just been served with divorce papers and seems to be the logical suspect in his wife's death.

The viewer knows that the murderer is actually Wyatt's old army pal (Paul Picerni), a married man with whom the deceased had been having an affair; the drama comes from watching the sheriffs put the pieces together. It's a well-paced movie which runs 63 minutes.

Elliott is perfect as a "just the facts, ma'am" style detective. He's not an actor with a great deal of range but this type of role is just right for his deadpan style.

There are interesting odds and ends scattered throughout the movie which are especially fun for someone interested in '50s L.A. For instance, the jazzy background score was performed by Shorty Rogers and His Giants; Rogers was an originator of "West Coast jazz." The musicians are never seen on screen but the music is noticeable in several early scenes.

The dialogue supervisor was future director Sam Peckinpah, who also plays the cook at the hamburger stand where Wyatt nervously eats alongside a motorcycle cop. This was the first of several acting roles for Peckinpah, who began directing for TV in 1958.

That's Elaine Riley playing the attractive deputy sheriff; a screen presence throughout the '40s and '50s, she was the wife of Richard Martin, fondly known as "Chito" in RKO's Tim Holt Westerns. The cast also includes Jack Kruschen and Rick Vallin.

There are some great location shots of L.A. streets, filmed by Ellsworth Fredricks; my attention was grabbed by a restaurant sign which said "Spanish Cafe." I wondered if it could be the legendary El Cholo, my favorite restaurant, which calls itself a Spanish Cafe, but the sign doesn't seem to be a match for the El Cholo signs I've found.

DIAL RED O was written and directed by Daniel B. Ullman, the man behind the scripts for countless Westerns I've enjoyed over the last couple of years.

The Warner Archive print looks terrific. I'm very much looking forward to spending time with the other films in this set and will report on them here in the future.

For more on this film, visit Toby's review at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura! Happy New Year!
A really good way to start 2016 is a review of a Bill Elliott film, as far as I'm concerned. I always especially enjoy your 'bits of business' about LA landmarks found in old movies (I love doing similar, looking out for London landmarks in old British movies).
These Elliott detective films are not classics of the genre but all are just plain enjoyable and entertaining. The print quality is terrific and a really fine job by the Archive.
Best wishes, Jerry

11:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Happy New Year, Jerry!

That's fun about you watching for London landmarks! I really love peeking at the L.A. of decades past via movies.

Really enjoyed this film and looking forward to more. So great that they look so good thanks to the Archive.

Best wishes,

11:49 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Although being a 'Wild Bill' fan, I've never got around to seeing these films. Wasn't too sure about seeing him swap his cowboy hat for a fedora... but you and Jerry have changed my mind! Heck, I like Rod Cameron in CORONADO 9, why not give Elliott a chance?

8:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think there's a good chance you're going to like this, Maricatrin. When you get a chance to see, let us know! :)

Best wishes,

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just bought the Bill Elliott box set and enjoyed the first one,DIAL RED O. Thanks for the recommendation. I like Elliott's laid back style. And the plot is good. I look forward to the others in the set.
As you say, great to see the Los Angeles settings.
I've never seen Bill in a western!

1:10 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted you enjoyed this, Vienna, and hope you'll enjoy the other films in the set! I enjoyed them all although I think this one might have been my favorite. Just wish he'd made more detective movies!

Maybe some of his Westerns after this set?

Thanks so much for taking the time to add your feedback. Hope others who read the post and comments will try the set out!

Best wishes,

1:52 PM  

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